When you enter the down-south hominess of Simply Soulful Café and Espresso, you already know what to expect.
From the black and white checkerboard floor to the pies chilling in the cooler, it’s as if you walked into grandma’s kitchen turned restaurant.
And in many ways, you have.
Barbara Collins and youngest daughter Lillian Rambus started Simply Soulful Pies & Catering years ago, selling pies and baked goods at the Kent Farmers Market in honor of family matriarch Elizabeth Hammond. Simply Soulful opened its brick and mortar location in Madison Park in 2013.
Hammond, born in West Point, Mississippi (a town famous as the hometown of Delta blues legend Howlin’ Wolf) in 1922, brought her soul food cooking and a mean sweet potato pie recipe to Spokane.
She passed on earlier this year at the age of 94, but Collins and Rambus honor her memory with heaping plates of hot comfort foods, as well as Hammond’s smiling portrait looking on at the patrons of this restaurant/coffee shop.
“This is the real deal here, it’s the best place in Seattle to find authentic soul food,” Rambus said. “You’re in my grandma’s kitchen every day.”
Simply Soulful is tucked away in the corner of the bottom floor of a four-story commercial building along East Madison, but the smells of frying food and pie hit your nose from a parking lot away.
On Rambus’ suggestion, I went with a sampler platter to try more of what the menu had to offer. The food took a while to come out, but the small scratch kitchen makes every hot item to order.
The catfish was perfectly seasoned with just a thin layer of cornmeal batter, cooked so each bite offered flaky, sweet fish. A bubbling hot pot of mac and cheese was rich and satisfying, while salty and well-seasoned collard greens were a tasty side.
A slightly spicy sauce accompanied the shrimp atop some buttery, creamy grits for an excellent addition to the meal.
A personal favorite was the red beans and rice, served with ham hock and chicken andouille.
Three fried chicken wings, two pieces of catfish, cornbread and two sides (plenty to feed three people) runs $18.95, while chicken and waffles comes in at $12.95.
The price point is maybe a bit higher than what I expected, but for scratch-made soul food like this in a prime location in Madison Park, it finishes fairly reasonable.
Plus, biscuit sandwiches for $9 and barbecue sandwiches for $11 are good breakfast and lunch deals.
Finally, get some sweet potato pie or banana pudding (complete with nilla wafers, because this is grandma’s kitchen we’re talking about) either there or to take home.
Rambus and Collins sold pies wholesale before opening the restaurant, and the attention and care in the baked goods is still obvious.
“My mom and I started selling grandma’s sweet potato pie,” Rambus said. ‘We’re a family of cooks, and it’s been our dream to have our own café.”
Simply Soulful provides a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere with smooth R&B music playing over the speakers and owners quick with a joke. It’s grandma’s kitchen and a slice of Mississippi. You’ll leave feeling better (maybe moving slower from the heavy food) when walk out the door.
The food isn’t revolutionary, but it’s simple, soulful and just what you need in your mouth on a cold winter Seattle day.
Simply Soulful is located at 2909 #B, East Madison Street.